How do you deal with the sexism that for 20th and 21st century audiences can make The Taming of the Shrew such a difficult watch? A few years ago the Royal Shakespeare Company staged it in a season with its antidote, John Fletcher's The Tamer Tamed – and that worked pretty well! Better still, Sam and Bella Spewack did a brilliant cut and paste job to enable Cole Porter to write a rather better stage work than Shakespeare's: in Kiss Me Kate Petruchio's wife beating and mind games are put in the context of marital spats between the actors in which the man by no means dominates.
Joe Murphy for the Globe Theatre plays it with an all-female cast – and it works to an extent. Leah Whittaker's Petruchio initially has the androgynous swagger of Adam Ant as a highwayman and the element of play-acting carries over into her/his first exchanges with Katherina: she is playing (very stylishly) at being a man – and also playing at being an unreconstructed misogynist. It doesn't last. Kate's final "I am ashamed that women are so simple" speech is as uncomfortable as ever, beautifully delivered by Kate Lamb, without a hint of irony, but with increasing emotion, to a silently appalled audience on and off stage. Petruchio is reduced to childish boasting about winning his bet and the two exit with a chasm between them – an intelligent and honest response from the director, but no way to end a comedy. So let's end with a song and dance. As so often these days, there are skilled instrumentalists in the cast and composer Corin Buckeridge rounds things off with a number reminiscent of The Waitresses – new wave punk, anyone?
Initially the "Hello, Richmond, how are you?" approach irritates and I am not sure that the "We're all girls doing it for fun"-style prologue is necessary, especially as the Christopher Sly scene is also played. However, things soon settle down and the production's style is set by the number in the cast (eight) as much as by their gender – frantic doubling and great fun with accents and costumes (designer Hannah Clark). Both the leads (Kate Lamb an immensely likeable Katherina – too likeable?) play the characters admirably straight. Kathryn Hunt is outstanding as a very funny Grumio and a convincingly selfish Baptista while the remaining troupe of five is full of energy, humour and versatility. Similar versatility was on show with the staging, a production that has been playing outdoor venues nestling into the bijou Georgian Theatre Royal with no trouble.